Years ago, someone who had stopped coming to church on Sundays before I was appointed to that church explained to me the reason why: “I enjoy reading the Sunday New York Times while having breakfast in bed. And I can get more out of it than coming to church.” I fully understood him but reiterated what the renowned theologian Karl Barth said: “In one hand the newspaper, in the other the Bible every day.”
It is the inability of modern preachers that made many modern people stop coming to church to hear the words of God. It’s one of the reasons why I have diligently pursued my continuing education, coupled with my full-time ministry. If I wanted, I could have bought a beautiful house with the money I invested for my 3 master’s degrees and a Ph.D., getting my student loan on 8% interest rate at that time. However, I have preferred my house of existence built by the profound words of God to a beautiful home built by a developer so that I can produce always my best sermons in it. Sometimes it’s hard for us to hear the whispering words of God due to the loud voices of the modern world. Sometimes we hear no words of God, because God speaks to us neither in our dreams nor in our languages. Once God spoke: “The time is surely coming when I will send a famine on the land — not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11).
It is even after the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost when the apostles institutionalized praying and preaching as the top priorities in their ministries of the early church: “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God.”(Acts 6:2). So they implemented the early church system separating 7 laity from clergy in order to handle the church business more effectively: “Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” (Acts 6:3-4). As a result, the clergy of the early church were able to devote themselves to mainly two things: Prayer and Preaching.
John Wesley got up early in the morning, read the Bible in Greek and prayed. His sermon was born out of his daily reading of the Bible and prayer. The prophet Samuel wrote: “Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.” (I Samuel 12:23).
According to today’s gospel lesson, Jesus cries out: “Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me.” The main point of today’s gospel text is that Jesus does not merely hand out a “spiritual” drink, but instead promises to send us the Holy Spirit and a remarkable phenomenon: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38).
When we receive the Holy Spirit, we participate in the unceasing prayer life toward God. Then, Jesus is no longer a memory, a story or an idea, but a living and unceasing presence in our lives. In and through the Holy Spirit, the glorified Jesus has become flesh in our lives once again. It begins with your encountering experience with God whose words you hear: “Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Acts 7:33); “Who are you, Lord? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5); “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17). That’s the turning point of your life. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” When you receive the Holy Spirit, you end up experiencing as exactly as Jesus said: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” When I received the Holy Spirit, it was the same mountain but it was not; when I received the Holy Spirit, it was the same valley but it was not. Wow! So I entered my ministry. It was almost 50 years ago, and now I am retiring at the end of my 41 year ministry in the New York Annual Conference. Indeed, it’s God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit that I have survived so far. Knowingly and unknowingly the guardian angels protected me, and I thank God for his blessing.
In conclusion, on Pentecost, to receive the Holy Spirit is the key. How can we receive the Holy Spirit, then? Jesus answers: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
Remember what the disciples did after Jesus’ ascension and before Pentecost: “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.“ (Acts 1:14). My dear Trinity brothers and sisters! Pray to God in asking the Holy Spirit, receive the Holy Spirit, and know the truth that sets you free by him. Amen.
Gospel Text: John7:37-39